When Lucia Leon first moved to Utah from Venezuela in 2014, she needed a little help while she was getting on her feet, so she went to a local food pantry.
Once she had a job, she stopped using the food pantry, grateful for how the service benefited her as she started her new life.
Little did she realize that just six years later, a pandemic would hit, and she would lose her job and end up in the hospital. She found herself in need of a food pantry again, but this time, the help she received went beyond temporary support.
She went to Community Action Services and Food Bank to receive not only food but also financial education.
Empowered with knowledge, she has made proactive choices that have put her on a path to a self-reliant life.
Leon was living in Las Vegas doing sales for a solar panel company when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Like many companies, her employer put all work on hold. After three months of paying high rent, making no income, and receiving no word of when she would be able to return to work, Leon knew she needed to make a change. She had a feeling that she should move back to Utah.
With some savings under her belt but no job lined up, she took a leap of faith and moved, renting a room from a friend.
While she was still looking for a job, she called 211, a Utah-based helpline that connects people to services such as housing and utility assistance, food resources and legal aid.
She asked if there were local food pantries that offered fresh produce, and the helpline directed her to CASFB in Provo.
Leon went to the pantry once a month, and while she was waiting in line one day, she noticed a poster advertising financial education courses.
“I try to be responsible,” Leon said. “I’ve read Robert Kiyosaki’s books, and I had a basic understanding of how to keep track of finances—how much I make, save, owe and pay. And I’d attended classes at church.”
But she wanted to know more, so she started taking CASFB’s financial management courses and homebuyer education classes. She learned how to set realistic goals, how to improve her credit score, and even how to negotiate medical bills. That came in handy when she contracted COVID and received a $27,000 bill for the medical care she received. She talked with the billing department and negotiated that amount down to $10,000!
After benefiting from food assistance and financial education, Leon is empowered to move forward with self-reliance—and encourage others to do the same.
“I encourage my friends to go to the food bank when they need it, and then stop using it when they don’t need it anymore,” she said. “As soon as you accomplish your financial goals, that’s the time to stop. That way, there are resources available for those who really need it.”
CASFB’s assistance and education classes have been “a blessing in my life,” Leon said. While she has completed CASFB’s courses, she is enrolled in further classes to expand her education so she can start a new career.
She is also participating in an individual development account program, which offers a three-to-one match for the money she saves.
She will use this match and her savings to put a down payment on a house this March, less than a year after she packed up and started all over again.
Though there’s a stigma around asking for help, Leon shared that it doesn’t have to be that way.
“You don’t have to be ashamed when you need a little help,” she said. “If I can’t afford to maintain a lifestyle just to pretend on Instagram and Facebook and in front of my friends, I just have to say ‘No, thank you,’ ‘It’s not in my budget this month,’ or ‘Let’s do something cheaper.’ It’s never too late to ask for help.”
To learn more about the food assistance and financial education courses available at Community Action Services and Food Bank, visit communityactionprovo.org.